Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 5 - Evidence - Meeting of February 27, 2014
OTTAWA, Thursday, February 27, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
8:02 a.m., to continue its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the
production of honey, food and seed in Canada.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and
Forestry this morning.
My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick and chair of the
committee. At this time, I would like to ask all senators to introduce
themselves, starting with the deputy chair.
Senator Mercer: My name is Terry Mercer. I'm from Nova Scotia.
Senator Tardif: Good morning; my name is Claudette Tardif, and I am a
senator from Alberta.
Senator Maltais: Ghislain Maltais; I am a senator from Quebec.
Senator Rivard: Good morning. My name is Michel Rivard, The
Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.
Senator Ogilvie: Kenneth Ogilvie from Nova Scotia.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
The committee is continuing its study on the importance of bees and bee
health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.
We received an order of reference from the Canadian Senate that the Standing
Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be authorized to examine and report
on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and
seed in Canada. In particular, the committee shall be authorized to examine this
topic within the following context.
The importance of bees in pollination to produce food, especially fruit and
vegetables, seed for crop production, and honey production in Canada; the
current state of native pollinators, leafcutter and honeybees in Canada; the
factors affecting honeybee health, including disease, parasites and pesticides
in Canada and globally; and also strategies for governments and stakeholders,
producers and industry to ensure bee health.
This morning, honourable senators, we have three witnesses. We welcome Mr.
Paul Kittilsen, member of the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association.
We also have the honour of receiving Mr. Paul Vautour, Maritime Delegate to
the Canadian Honey Council.
Also, from Alberta, Michael Paradis, President, Owner/Operator of Paradis
On behalf of the committee, thank you for accepting our invitation to share
with us your vision, views and recommendations on the order of reference that we
have received from the Senate of Canada.
I have been informed by the clerk that we will start from the east for the
presentations, going directly out west. Therefore, we will start with Nova
Scotia, to be followed by New Brunswick and then Alberta.
Mr. Kittilsen, the floor is yours.
Paul Kittilsen, Member, Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association: Thank you
very much, Mr. Chair. On behalf of the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association, I
would like to thank you for your invitation to speak to you about beekeeping in
To give you some of my background, I started beekeeping at the age of 16,
when I accepted a summer job with a friend of my family. That was 32 years ago.
I have kept bees every year since, expanding from three hives to currently over
When I started beekeeping, there were approximately 800 beekeepers in Nova
Scotia. Beekeeping was relatively easy at that time. While it was hard physical
work, there was lots of bee pasture for honey production and the bee population
was healthy, threatened by some bacterial diseases and the occasional black
bear. Winter losses could be made up from imported U.S.A. packages.
This all started to change in 1987, with the closure of the Canadian border
to the importation of honeybees due to the discovery of tracheal mite in the
southern United States.
With this border closure, beekeepers in Nova Scotia were now forced to winter
all colonies, and the winter losses were made up from splitting or making
nucleus hives from successfully wintered colonies. This sparked a new industry.
Beekeepers with successfully wintered hives could sell nucleus colonies to other
beekeepers. All the same, a number of beekeepers quit the industry because they
could not figure out how to successfully winter honeybees. The passage of time
has proven that this border closure was a very prudent decision.
While beekeepers in the rest of Canada struggled with these new pests, Nova
Scotia beekeepers prospered. Tracheal mites were discovered in Nova Scotia in
1990 in a small operation. It was a small, isolated apiary and these hives were
eradicated. Constant surveillance was done for the next five years in this area,
and no additional tracheal mites were found in Nova Scotia until 2012. At this
time they were found in a larger operation and they were here to stay.
The next big scare to Nova Scotia beekeeping was the discovery of the varroa
mite in New Brunswick. It is suspected this mite travelled across the border in
a blueberry field in a swarm from the United States. This mite proved to be the
biggest plague to bees and beekeepers worldwide. Yet again, the restricted
border proved to be an asset to Nova Scotia beekeepers. Varroa mites were not
present in Nova Scotia until eight years after their discovery in New Brunswick.
This allowed time for control products to be registered and approved for use. It
allowed time for Nova Scotia beekeepers to learn from beekeepers in other
provinces how to deal with this new pest.
In 1999, there were 156 beekeepers in Nova Scotia, with 19,800 hives going
into winter. This number dropped to 17,800 in 2011. The winter of 2013, the
current winter, saw 21,200 hives prepared for winter by 245 beekeepers. Why this
increase? The increased use the Apivar as a varroa mite control, financial
incentives through the Nova Scotia Pollination Expansion Program, and slightly
higher returns from pollination contracts and honey sales were all contributors.
Apivar is a varroa mite control product that was recently registered in
Canada. It's losing efficacy in the United States, but so far in Canada it
continues to be very effective.
In 2012, a four-module course entitled ``The Modern Beekeeper: Basics to
Business,'' was developed by the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association in
cooperation with the Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture extended
learning department to meet the increasing demand for new and beginning
beekeepers. The first course was held last year with full attendance and rave
reviews from the attendees. The course is starting again this week with full
Nova Scotia continues to have among the lowest winter losses of any province
in Canada, with one exception in 2009-10. Nova Scotia's winter loss rate is
lower than the Canadian average and far lower than the average winter loss of
beehives in the United States of America.
In the early years — and this would be back to the 1950s and 1960s —
providing a pollination service was growing in popularity. Package bees were
available, but increasingly, beekeepers wanted to start overwintering due to the
increasing cost of packages and the relative ease of preparing bees for winter
and wintering them in Nova Scotia.
Overwintered bees tend to build up faster than package bees. In the early
years of providing bees for pollination, beekeepers and blueberry growers agreed
that the price of pollination would be equal to the price of a package of bees
to start the hive. Some blueberry growers bought bees for the beekeepers in
exchange for using the hives for pollination. During these times, this equated
to Nova Scotia beekeepers receiving the highest price for pollination services
in North America.
Prices for pollination services have fallen below this threshold, despite the
increasing cost to control new pests, increasing losses of honeybees and pasture
they forage on, increasing demand from blueberry growers for pollination
services, and an explosion in the black bear population. Blueberry producers are
reluctant to pay more for hive rental because there is uncertainty in the price
they will receive for their berries until well after their berries are shipped
to the processor.
Most blueberry producers cannot justify seven to eight hives per acre. Most
feel that one hive per 2,000 pounds of berries — and therefore, two to three
hives to the acre — is an acceptable pollination stocking rate.
The province's ``Buy Local'' honey campaign has pushed the sales of local
honey upward within the province. This is an important source of revenue for our
In conclusion, I would like to point out that while beekeeping in Nova Scotia
continues to be a gentle art, restricted border access has provided us with
protection from many pests of the beehives located outside our borders and
provided us time to learn how the rest of North America deals with pests for
when they eventually reach our shores. Nova Scotia has shown growth in both hive
numbers and the number of beekeepers in the last four years.
We have to remember that in Nova Scotia the apple growers also depend on our
hives for pollination. Also, I'd like to point out from the statistics that the
number of hives rented for pollination in Nova Scotia was fairly consistent,
growing a little bit, but it dropped in 2010 when one major processor cancelled
all of its pollination contracts with beekeepers in the middle of April of that
That concludes my written presentation, and I'm available to take questions.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Kittilsen.
Paul Vautour, Maritime Delegate to the Canadian Honey Council, New
Brunswick Beekeepers Association:
Unfortunately, I do not speak much French, but I can understand everything and
sometimes I manage to express myself correctly. I am originally from St. John, a
city loyal to England, and I had trouble learning French.
The Chair: You speak French well.
Mr. Vautour: I'm not quite as organized as Paul. I'm here by default.
The President of the New Brunswick Beekeepers Association invited me to come
speak to you. They didn't feel they had the expertise to do so, and you'll
probably understand why when I finish the brief report I have here.
In New Brunswick, the majority of commercial beekeepers, those who provide
pollination services or collect honey, could be described as ``serious
side-liners.'' They are unable to financially survive without an alternate
source of family income. There is no formal schooling in apiculture, no
extension service and no organized mentoring.
The provincial organization is totally volunteer and regional branches hold
educational field days. There is no funding available for new beekeepers, and
their expensive experience is fraught with failure and discouragement. Attempts
by the province to spur survival and growth through financial incentives to
existing beekeepers — although it was beneficial over the last few years — did
not produce significant gains in the number of colonies. Expansion is stifled
because of the fear of failure and the cost of borrowing.
Whereas provinces west of New Brunswick are better developed in beekeeping
and have more extension resources, we are suffering from inertia. The influence
of this committee might be suited to persuade Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
and perhaps our province to embark on some type of mentoring or education
project for new beekeepers, one that would also help with the cost of start-up.
We understand that the issues of neonicotinoids, pesticides, herbicides,
fungicides and internal parasites have been widely discussed, so we defer this
topic to the experts in the scientific community for resolution rather than
engage in political activism.
Similarly, we defer the bee supply and U.S. border issue to the regulatory
agencies who have determined that there is a high risk of introducing bees with
undesirable diseases to our country. The Maritime Beekeepers Association, which
I represent on the Canadian Honey Council, has consistently voted against
importing package bees from the continental U.S.A.
We perceive another serious risk to Apis mellifera and pollination in
New Brunswick is due to starvation, with the vast majority of the province's
woodlands containing scant summer blossoms. When pollination is complete — and
wild blueberry pollination is the largest crop we have in New Brunswick — we
rely on the goodwill of local farmers to allow us to place our colonies on their
property, out of the way.
The modern-day shift in agriculture practices is one of the causes for
concern. The increase in corn plantation is virtually of no benefit to
honeybees. But I understand, in talking to a farmer yesterday morning at another
meeting, that corn production is going down because the price is dropping. So
that's probably an advantage for beekeepers.
Also, farmers tend to mow their alfalfa and clover crops as they come into
blossom, when they are at their peak of nutritional value, thus depriving the
bees of the vital pollen and nectar they need for overwinter survival.
Another factor is that blueberry growers have discovered the economic value
of bees, and some are beginning to overstock their fields. The result is a
bumper crop of blueberries, but the downside is where we once could count on a
surplus of honey from the blueberry blossoms, the colonies come out lighter than
when they went into the fields.
An added risk of losing pollinators for blueberry growers is the fact that
there is a decreasing supply of honey in North America, which is causing the
price to rise. The buy local movement is also a contributing factor, and as the
price of honey increases due to generalized decrease in honey production, it
becomes more economical not to move the bees to pollination and take advantage
of early summer honey crops from wild flowers. The normal price for pollination
is in the vicinity of $140 per colony. A lot of farmers and beekeepers are often
tight-lipped when they talk about price, but I can pretty well guarantee that
the average price is about $140.
It's easily feasible for colonies in wild flower infested areas that are in
blossom throughout the summer to produce 100 pounds of honey, which can sell in
local markets at a retail price of up to $5 per pound. The general price of
wholesale — perhaps Mr. Paradis can tell you better than I because I'm not in
the honey business, rather the pollination business — is slightly over $2 per
pound this year, and that's pretty good. That's a record price for wholesale.
With 100 pounds of honey at $2 per pound, it outstrips the cost of pollination.
It's not a far-fetched scenario, and there is already talk of Ontario beekeepers
weighing this option.
New Brunswick is heavily dependent on the honeybees coming in from Ontario
because we can't meet the demand in New Brunswick for wild blueberry
pollination. We have about 7,000 or 8,000 colonies that go to blueberry
pollination. An extra 20,000 are trucked in from Ontario and Quebec. That's
unfortunate because it would be nice to keep those dollars inside the province.
There is an opportunity perhaps to resolve the starvation problem by having
all government highways and those types of projects incorporate the seeding of
roadway shoulders with seeds from perennial flowers that are normally considered
weeds. I would suggest dandelion, purple vetch, Dutch clover and other flowers
that bloom at different times of the year. Not only would it provide forage for
bees, it would stabilize the land and provide food for small, seed-eating
There are also tracts of abandoned farmland becoming overgrown with alder
bushes. These lands could also be planted with the above crops, and also sweet
Sweet clover can grow up to five or six feet tall, two or three metres tall.
Unfortunately, along the highways of New Brunswick it's a risk because the deer
can hide in there. We can't see them. They can jump out on the roads rather
quickly, so the government keeps the sides of the roads mowed quite closely of
this plant. We call it sweet clover because it has three leaves on it, and it is
a clover technically, but doesn't look anything like clover.
These fields that are going fallow could be planted with this sweet clover,
because it's a favourite of the honeybees.
So there is sweet clover, and perhaps even cash crops. Borage is a good cash
crop, but it's considered a weed by most farmers. Borage, of course, can be used
in foods, and they use the oil from those seeds for medicinal purposes.
We've already been forced to begin feeding pollen substitutes and sugar syrup
to our bees, but it's receiving less than stellar results to help them
That's my presentation.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Vautour.
Now we will go to Alberta, with Mr. Paradis.
Michael Paradis, Owner/Operator, Paradis Honey Ltd.: Thank you.
I'm a commercial honey producer in Girouxville, Alberta, pretty far north in
the Peace River area. I operate 3,500 beehives, with enough equipment to run
6,000. I have a fair amount of equipment that's empty. I'm also seventh
generation in this business, and to my knowledge, the oldest family in
beekeeping in Canada. I do pollination services in the Lower Mainland of B.C.
The issues that I see arising in beekeeping in Alberta and Canada: varroa
mites and resistance; American foulbrood resistance; importation of packages; we
need a healthy toolbox for the beekeepers; a little bit quicker response from
CFIA, PMRA; of course, there's the neonicotinoid problem; and the opportunities
arising that we are facing.
Varroa mites are not a new animal. It's the same mite; it's just resistant to
the chemicals we're using now. We all know that bugs of any kind, the more you
use a chemical on them, they will become resistant.
Paul mentioned that we've been using amitraz-based product for the last four
years in Canada. Normally, five to six is all you will get out of it, so within
five or six years, we are going to see resistance.
I know American foulbrood is a contentious issue with a lot of people across
the provinces. You're looking at the man who had the first case in Canada. It is
an issue; however, it is not an issue. It's necessary to understand that
American foulbrood has been with honeybees since honeybees have been around. The
only difference is that with the invention of the Langstroth hive, it's been
able to be passed around from one beehive to the next. Before, with the skep
hive, this wasn't an issue. The bees do have a mechanism to help them combat it,
With regard to the importation of packages, I think we should be able to
import packages from any place that the disease profile meets what Canada's
standards are right now. We shouldn't import anything that has any other
diseases, but if we have the disease and the other country has the disease, I
see no reason why we shouldn't be allowed access to those products.
Canada and the U.S. had a symbiotic relationship pre-1988. There was a lot of
genetic work done. They would send their packages to us. In the fall, we would
in turn send our queen bees back. They would reuse those genes and send them
Mr. Chair, you have a confused look on your face. The reason I'm skipping and
adding a few things is because the gentlemen before me raised all of those other
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Paradis: I see no reason to waste time on stuff that's already
The relationship we had with the U.S. was a good relationship. We are now
importing package bees from New Zealand and Australia. Those bees are at the end
of their season over there, and we're importing old-age bees from these
countries. The thing is with these old-age bees, we don't get the buildup that
we find necessary out of them. They arrive in Canada in poor condition, mostly
due to heat, rain and transport delays through transportation.
Other things have to be considered when transporting bees. What would happen
if some of those bees escaped in the cargo area of an airplane and made their
way into the cabin over the Pacific at 40,000 feet? There wouldn't be another
bee being shipped by an airplane anywhere, at any time. It's just a matter of
time before it happens. The more you push the envelope, the sooner it's going to
To think that diseases are going to stop between Canada and the U.S., or from
Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, it's very foolish. The past 20 years should
have taught us that. The border closure in 1988 was to be temporary, closed for
tracheal mite. However, the head-in-the-sand mentality took over, and over most
of Canada, the tracheal mite was widespread within two years.
About the same time that the tracheal mite was widespread in Canada, the
varroa mite showed up in the U.S.: Number two reason to keep the border closed.
Within five years, the varroa mite was also widespread through most of Canada. I
have my own theories as to why this situation occurred, but it's pretty obvious
that protectionism didn't pan out, was a complete failure.
I'm here today to discuss and answer questions about bee health, but one must
realize that bee health in Canada needs importation of packages, which is what
we're doing now, regardless.
With regard to the tools we need, we need practical research; out-of-the-box
thinking; access to more products, hard and soft chemicals; perhaps better
control of the harsh chemicals that we use by using it for two years and
switching to a different product, amitraz to acid products; pressure and aid to
big corporations like Bayer, Monsanto, et cetera, to develop the products for
beekeepers and help them to bring it into the marketplace rather than put a lot
of legislation in front of them to discourage them.
In regard to the risk assessment, it's our opinion — and mine in particular —
that it is very flawed. I don't know who the persons are who critiqued this
document, but these people don't understand honeybees or diseases. Statements
like the U.S. bees are not healthy, on one page of the risk assessment, and a
couple of pages later, that the U.S. has increased their hive count by
100,000-plus colonies, one doesn't pencil out the other. You need healthy bees
to increase; you don't need sick bees.
The research dollars we give away to many projects run a five- to ten-year
course. We need to police and make major adjustments and encourage change in the
thought process of academics. If a project is not going the way they thought and
is going sideways, quit wasting money on it. Move on to something that will make
If the beekeepers don't have healthy bees and a healthy economic business,
there's no need for research. Without us, we don't need them. It's plain and
The fact is if we're allowed to do what the bee industry needs to do, without
so much government intervention, but instead assistance from regional and
provincial support, the industry would thrive.
Neonicotinoid use: Well, there's no doubt that neonics are not good for all
insects, beneficial and pests alike. Good science has yet to prove one way or
another to what extent it affects the bees. But what is clear is that the dust
clouds that arise from the action of seeding are not working. This needs to be
addressed as soon as possible.
The question is: Is there even integrated pest management going on in big
farming? Every seed is coated with a neonic. Why?
The opportunities for the pollination business of blueberries on the East
Coast and the West Coast are only going to grow with the demand for the health
benefits of berries. I believe that the demand will soon reach well over 70,000
hives for pollination. This business could easily take over the fisheries in the
East and in the West.
On the Prairies, it will be the increase of hybrid canola, and canola and
clovers in my area. There are tens of thousands of acres of canola that don't
even see a bee, with all of that nectar and honey production potential wasted.
And they don't see a native honeybee either.
The hive numbers in Alberta only went up because of pollination and as a
result of wintering losses and the need to get ahead of the loss curve, making
up a one-frame nuc for next year's honey crop.
The way the winter losses are calculated for provincial numbers in my view is
incorrect. In my operation, I calculate the loss directly to how many empty
pallets and boxes I have to fill. It has nothing to do with what goes in the
building and what comes out of the building, what goes in in September and comes
out in April. It's what is lost from the fall before from culling and all of
these things. My wintering losses could be 25 per cent over the winter from
September to April, but the actual losses are closer to 40 per cent.
The business of raising queens in B.C. is not likely going to happen. They
had 25 years to figure that out and they still haven't gotten it. It's mostly
climate-dependent. We don't have the climate in this country to do it, not at
the time that the commercial people need it. We can produce a lot of bees — that
experiment has been done — but not queens.
Things to remember are that honeybees are not native to North America. They
were imported. It was previously thought that there were two different bees —
the Africanized bee and the European honeybee — but DNA testing this year
confirmed that all honeybees come from Africa and they all have genome
In closing, we must all remember that we live in Canada, and it's 22 below at
my house right now. Yesterday and the day before we were working bees; it was
minus 36. We were working them in the shop getting ready to send them off to
pollination. It's the best place to manage and produce honey. It's the absolute
worst place to winter bees. Temperatures that range from minus 60 and then rise
within two weeks to plus 10 and then back down to minus 40 is not conducive to
honeybees at all.
The Chair: Thank you, very much, Mr. Paradis.
Senator Mercer: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Again, we continue to
learn more as the study goes on.
Obviously, Mr. Kittilsen, I will want to ask you a question first, being from
Nova Scotia. You answered the question people always ask about the sign on the
Trans-Canada Highway coming from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, which is ``no
importation of bees,'' which is a strange sign to see on a highway.
Also, with all due respect to Mr. Paradis, who talks about the inevitably of
the diseases catching up, if you get an extra five years without disease or
parasites, that's real.
You mentioned, Mr. Kittilsen, that the major user of the services of
beekeepers suddenly cancelled contracts in one year. What was the cause of that?
Mr. Kittilsen: We do not rent to that grower. I know many beekeepers
who did, and I'm not privy to their boardrooms. It was rumoured that it was low
price or anticipated low price for blueberry pollination. The grower in question
at the very last minute decided he needed some bees, so some beekeepers were
able to supply some beehives. Most of the beekeepers had already prepared them
for summer honey collection instead of going to the blueberry fields for
pollination, so it did cause quite a wrinkle for the beekeepers in Nova Scotia.
If I'm not mistaken, Nova Scotia had one of its highest yields of honey that
year on average.
Senator Mercer: You did mention another problem that may not be unique
to Nova Scotia, but it certainly is a problem. As someone who lives in rural
Nova Scotia, I know of the explosion of the black bear population. How
significant is that?
Mr. Kittilsen: When I first started beekeeping — I still keep
honeybees in many of the same areas — at that time we had to have no electric
fences and we lost no bees to honey bears. Now we have to continually fence our
bee yards with an electric fence to protect the honeybees from the black bear
It's also a problem in the blueberry fields because they are in the woods or
along the edges of woods. Some of the blueberry growers would like to spread
their bees out, but because they're responsible for the honeybee colonies while
they're in the blueberry fields, it's very expensive to fence each and every
Mr. Vautour: On the bear problem, it's economics again. We used to
have hoards of hunters come up from the United States. With the economy slumped
down there, we're not getting those hunters any longer, so the bear population
has grown extensively.
I have had bad experiences with bears in the blueberry fields especially
because the growers, as he says, want to spread the hives around in different
areas, but they sometimes don't realize that bees will fly up to two miles. So
spreading them around in a field doesn't help them much, I don't think.
I lost a lot of bees, but the good part is that these growers were bringing
in bumblebees in boxes — they call them quads; there are four nests — and
honeybees are much better pollinators than bumblebees. We know that the
individual bumblebee is a better pollinator by the way it works the flower, but
when you get a clutch of maybe 75 bumblebees in one of those quads, those nests,
compared to about maybe 20,000 honeybees going out, they win hands down every
time. Honeybees are much better than bumblebees for pollinating.
We discovered that the bears liked the bumblebees better than the honeybees,
so they were going after them. It gave us a chance to get in there and get some
electric fences up.
Mr. Paradis: Black bears are not just a problem in the East. They are
a problem all over. We have approximately 120 fences that we use. from electric
fences to permanent ones. Personally, I plan on losing 250 hives a year to
bears. I plan on it. Black bears are a huge problem. As Mr. Vautour said, we
used to get a lot of American hunters coming up to shoot bears.
The biggest problem with black bears is they populate a lot. One mother will
have up to five cubs. Everyone wants to shoot a huge black bear, but no one
wants to shoot the problem ones, which are the smaller ones. They want the big
ones on the wall; they don't want the small ones.
Senator Mercer: By that time, it's too late. Perhaps a solution is
that we do a cull of black bears.
Mr. Vautour, in your presentation you said an added risk of losing
pollinators for blueberry growers is the fact that there is a decreasing supply
of honey in North America, which is causing the price to rise. I thought it was
a good thing that the price was going up. If I were producing honey and the
supply was going down, the law of supply and demand would be a good thing if I
had more honey to sell than the next guy.
Mr. Vautour: You are correct, but the problem is that it's the
blueberry growers who need the pollination. People will stop going to blueberry
pollination because they are overstocking their fields, not getting a crop off
the blueberry blossoms, which is an ideal honey; it has a totally different
flavour than all the other honeys.
They just won't go to blueberry pollination. They will keep the bees at home
in their own fields and save on the cost of transportation. Transporting is hard
on the bees also, so there could be a decline in the number of bee colonies
available for pollination.
Mr. Paradis: The price of honey is going up, but at what point will it
start affecting the consumer? That's the main thing. There is a point where the
consumer will not purchase honey any longer.
While you're saying that supply and demand will drive the price of honey up,
it will also drive the imports in. It was previously thought that Canada had a
huge supply of cattle, but we're now importing beef because there is not enough
beef in the country. So it's a very tricky situation.
Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here today.
One of the issues that has come up, and you have raised it as well, is
whether we should restrict the package bees coming across the border. We get
this dichotomy in terms of this has worked for us but it hasn't worked or there
is a delay of several years.
Can you give us advice in terms of how to sort that out? If we were going to
make a recommendation one way or the other, do you see an opportunity for
beekeeping associations or beekeepers to agree on whether we should allow
importation from the U.S.? How do we as a committee resolve that? Or how do the
beekeepers resolve that?
Mr. Vautour: I'll take a stab at that. I did a stint on the Canadian
Honey Council, which is the body that represents beekeepers nationally. Paul
replaced me, and now I'm back in there again.
We've wrestled with this question for many years. It has been going on for 20
years, and it's hard to get resolution because some of the provinces are doing
well. In southern Ontario, the Niagara region, they are doing quite well, and
they don't really need to bring packages in. Their climate is such that they can
I think Nova Scotia's climate is quite good in the Annapolis Valley region
for the early production of bees. British Columbia is in the same situation.
They have milder weather, so they can build up their bee populations.
But in other areas like the northern climates where you get those terrible
cold seasons, it's hard to keep bees alive up there; they have to import bees
from outside the province.
There are different opinions from the different provinces, and we've never
been able to resolve it. Paul may be able to talk about it also because he has
been through it, too.
Mr. Kittilsen: Yes, that is an interesting question. We haven't been
able to agree on it since 1987 across the country. I don't anticipate we will be
able to any time soon.
In our own operation, we've developed management techniques where we can
multiply our bees in July after blueberry pollination, and we have plentiful
hives to make splits from. We then winter them and either use them in our own
operation or we sell them to beekeepers that want to start an operation. We have
started two or three beekeepers in the Maritime region now, and it can work. It
works better on a smaller scale.
Part of the issue is the price of pollination. Do we sell the hive or do we
run the hive for the year? Years ago, the price of pollination began increasing
slowly, but I do not believe it has kept pace with the challenges that
beekeepers face, which is a bit of an issue, especially now when we are getting
more pressure from honey prices. I believe Mr. Paradis is correct: Honey prices
have gone up in the past and they have come back down, so I think we have to be
ready for that. Definitely an increase in the price of pollination would help
our industry immensely.
Currently, the bees are coming from Ontario into Nova Scotia for pollination
under permit. Nova Scotia has a restricted border, but it's not fully closed. As
long as the disease profiles are the same, bees may be imported into the
province under permit, and I think that Nova Scotia would agree to any hive
importation or bee importation if the disease profile is the same as we
currently have in our province.
Mr. Paradis: This is a contentious issue. As Paul said, no one has
agreed on it since 1988.
I will say that the diversity in Canada in the area of beekeeping is immense.
There are places where there is no doubt it works very well. There is a reason
why there are 85,000 hives from Alberta that run into the southern parts of
British Columbia. There are hives from Manitoba that are trucked into B.C. for
overwintering. However, B.C. isn't big enough to house all of the hives; there
is not enough room there.
Wintering is a challenging thing in the Prairies. Last year was a very good
example of that. I believe Manitoba had almost seven months of winter, and it's
going to be that way this year as well.
Senator Buth: Yes. Thanks for reminding me.
Mr. Paradis: Which will not be much different from what we're
experiencing in the Peace River region. If you draw a straight line east across
Canada from my house, you're going right to Gander, Newfoundland. You're going
north and it's cold. I'm not the furthest beekeeper north in Alberta. There are
still a couple of commercial guys that are 200 miles north of me.
But, as Paul said, they are allowing imports into the Maritimes under
restriction, as long as they meet the disease profile. Why is that not the case
with package bees? We can't survive without packages and that has already been
proven. We're bringing them in from offshore, from tropical countries where they
have diseases that we don't and that the U.S. doesn't.
Six years ago, the U.S. was allowing imports of packages from Australia. They
quit importing bees from Australia, and they actually closed the door for the
export of bees from Canada into the U.S. because Canada still imports bees from
Australia. That's a serious thing to look at.
So if the U.S. believes Australia has more bugs than Canada, why is our
regulatory agency not taking a better scientific look at what's going on? This
risk assessment sitting beside me isn't worth the paper it's written on.
Senator Tardif: Welcome, we are pleased to see you here this morning.
My question is addressed to Mr. Paradis. And I must say to my colleagues, since
I am from Alberta, that the name Paradis is very well known in the province as
being an excellent producer of commercial honey. Congratulations, you are the
seventh generation of beekeepers; that is wonderful.
Mr. Paradis, in your presentation you made certain statements I would like to
look at. You indicated that academics needed to change their way of thinking.
You also stated that the government should let the beekeeping industry do
what it has to do without intervening, but that the industry would receive
funding from the regions and provinces, and that it could prosper.
Could you give us some more detail on those statements?
Mr. Paradis: What I was saying in that statement is we have studies
going on by our provincial apiculturists and our so-called bee scientists. They
come to us. They want to do a project. I will use formic acid, for one example,
to control varroa mites.
Formic acid has been used to control varroa mites for the better part of 20
years. Is there a necessity to do another study on how it's being used and the
most effective way to use it? The wheel is already made. Do you really need to
reinvent the wheel?
If your results are not beneficial, at what point in a study do you stop, or
do you have to proceed with that study right up until the end? If five years
into your project you can see that this product will not work no matter what, do
you have to spend that extra money and finish that project? In business, if it's
not working, we change gears and go the other way, or we drop it.
That's what I meant by spending wisely and changing the academic thought,
because the academic thought is to proceed until the very end of the project. If
you don't spend those funds, you're not going to get any more funds, and that's
a common thing.
I forgot the second part of your question.
Senator Tardif: It was about government intervention.
Mr. Paradis: Government intervention meaning that they're allowed to
use Apivar — the product we use for mites — in France. France is a trading
partner with us. Why did it take six years for PMRA and CFIA to get on the
bandwagon and say, ``Yes, if you guys need it, you can use it''? Why did it take
so long? If our trading partners are using products to control mites, what is
the deal? What is the problem?
Senator Tardif: In your opinion, you would like to move and use that
Mr. Paradis: Exactly. Efficiently, quicker. Give us more tools to use
but not continuously use.
Right now, Apivar is the only product we're allowed to use along with the
past two products that we were allowed before this, but the past two products
had built up resistance. If we would have been using Apivar and a combination of
the other three, we may not have any resistance to any of the three. Why do we
have to wait and then all of a sudden start searching for another one and then
use it until it's totally exhausted?
Senator Tardif: What is your feeling about neonicotinoids? Does it
affect bees in your area?
Mr. Paradis: There is no doubt about it that neonicotinoids are
affecting bees, but to what extent? The science is not in on that at all.
The seeding of corn is certainly an issue. There is no question of that. I've
seen that with my own eyes.
The question about neonics — Paul and I had supper last night. I just read
something from Australia. Australia is doing the same thing you people are doing
now. They've had a Senate hearing. They have come back and said that neonics are
not a problem and that they are actually doing good things for bees because
they're not spraying 15 times for bugs. It's a one-shot deal.
I think it's a razor blade to walk on. One side is going to get cut and the
other side is going to cut. Which side is going to hurt less?
Senator Tardif: You have an interesting way of putting things.
Mr. Paradis: Reality is reality.
Senator Tardif: You said that it was coated. Why did the seed have to
Mr. Paradis: Exactly. Why does Bayer, Monsanto and Pioneer have to
coat every seed with neonic? Neonicotinoids, right now in preliminary science
the terminology is that the compound stays in the ground for up to 10 or 15
years. Is it a necessary thing to have every seed coated?
When we're treating our bees for foulbrood, we don't treat every beehive. We
treat the beehives that are sick.
If you don't have a problem in your field, do you need every seed coated? My
farmers are asking me that. Why do we have to buy seed that's already treated?
We can't buy untreated seed.
Senator Eaton: Mr. Paradis, your family has been in the business for
seven generations as beekeepers, so you must have family history in keeping
bees. Obviously, father to son, father to daughter learnt.
Mr. Paradis: A lot of crazy people.
Senator Eaton: It's obviously paying off for all of us.
What are the things historically? Did your grandfather have varroa mites or
American foulbrood? What things have surfaced in the last 10 years that perhaps
your father or grandfather or great grandfather didn't have to deal with? Surely
that's part of your history.
Mr. Paradis: There have always been contentious issues in beekeeping.
Probably the biggest thing in the early 1950s was American foulbrood. American
foulbrood is something that has existed with bees, I think, since bees existed.
The normal course of action with American foulbrood prior to human
intervention, before people were keeping bees, is that bees would make a nest,
whether in a tree or log or in a branch or under a cliff. They would build up to
a certain strength and swarm, meaning the colony would split in two, three or
four factions depending on how many queens were raised. A portion of bees and a
queen would leave.
When the original mother nest got too dirty or American foulbrood or European
foulbrood showed up, which is a bacterial fungus, all the bees would abscond and
leave that nest. Mother Nature would take over in the U.S and in much of Europe.
The greater wax moth would come in or a black bear would come in and destroy the
nest. The old existing nest would be gone, done.
The swarming action and actually leaving the nest would break the cycle of
American foulbrood for a long enough period of time to rejuvenate and start
Senator Eaton: What has changed?
Mr. Paradis: We have changed it; human intervention. When I said that
the Langstroth hive is the mother of all inventions for beekeeping, it's true,
but it also facilitates the moving of disease from one colony to the next.
Senator Eaton: What is the Langstroth hive?
Mr. Paradis: It is the standard beehive that you see in the fields
Senator Eaton: So they're the white boxes you see.
Mr. Paradis: The white boxes, which have removable combs in them.
When we're making up our losses, we take combs with bees and put them in a
new box; you're transferring the disease from that hive to your new hive.
Senator Eaton: What did your grandfather do about overwintering?
Mr. Paradis: In Quebec, they overwintered them in a caveau, in
an underground building, so to speak. It was half underground and half above
ground. One of my cousins still uses the same one that was used 80 years ago.
The overwintering in Quebec has always been a constant practice, even back to
the 1960s and 1970s, simply because most of the availability of package bees was
from California or way south in the U.S, and it was too costly to get the bees
into Quebec. It was much easier to winter them.
Senator Eaton: But it worked.
Mr. Paradis: It worked only because of the level that Montreal is at.
It's a much warmer climate than Girouxville, Alberta.
Senator Eaton: Yes, but you couldn't do the same thing in Alberta?
Mr. Paradis: We do have indoor wintering buildings in Alberta. We do
all of that. But how long is winter in Montreal?
Senator Eaton: Winter is long and lasts five months. I am from
Montreal and you are not going to tell me that winter is short.
Mr. Vautour: To answer your question, in New Brunswick, what used to
happen — and this is before my time. I've only been in this for close to 30
years now and I'm in one of those ``serious side-liners'' I talked about. I had
a career in the civil service. I retired early and took this up because I wanted
to continue my education. I got sidetracked by the bees and then I couldn't
In New Brunswick, and I think probably in Nova Scotia, too, before my time
they used to actually gas the bees, kill them in the fall and collect the honey,
and they would bring packages in from the United States. A package of bees from
the United States back then was something like $5, and they could probably
collect 150 pounds of honey from those hives that they made up from those
packages. That's how they did it.
One of the problems is with the comb and the removable frames in the hive.
The old beekeepers that I met when I first started beekeeping used to brag about
how long they kept this honeycomb. It turned black after it was in there for a
while. You can imagine the diseases that were building up in that old honeycomb.
Today, we understand that to change this comb is a good thing, to put new comb
in every four years.
Senator Eaton: I'm asking the question because, as in farming
practices, we know now that you have to come back. Sometimes the old ways had
reasons, composting all those things. That's why I'm asking you about
beekeeping. Are there some old ways we should be bringing back?
Mr. Paradis: Yes, that's exactly it, which is what I was getting to.
The fact that we were using American foulbrood, for an example, if you take your
bees and put them in a package from the U.S., even if they have resistant
American foulbrood in that operation, you are not going to transport that
American foulbrood disease in a package into Canada. A lot of people don't
understand this, for one reason: Bees in a package for four days, the American
foulbrood spores run right through the bee. They're gone; they're completely
gone. You're 98 per cent sure that it's not going to come in. Nobody takes this
into consideration, which goes back to the idea of the bees swarming out of
their swarm. That was their defence mechanism, because they're not going to be
able to transfer any pollutants back into their new hive because they've already
cleaned themselves out.
In northern Alberta, when we were bringing in packages, by stacking the boxes
in the shed for the winter, we were keeping ourselves clean, inadvertently. We
know that now, but didn't know that then.
Mr. Kittilsen: I learned beekeeping from a beekeeping gentleman who is
now 91. There were bees on the farm the day he was born there. I learned how to
winter bees, so wintering bees was never a problem for me in my operation, but
it was a problem for people who had never done it. Because I grew up with
wintering, I learned the trade.
Senator Eaton: What did you learn?
Mr. Kittilsen: I learned the techniques of how to manage a beehive.
A couple of things have changed. We have varroa mites now. It's more evident
that they carry viruses that we don't even know about in bees. We're learning
about these viruses. This is new. We have methods of treatment, but the varroa
mite is basically the equivalent to my having a dinner plate on my side sucking
the blood out of me. It's a bug on a bug. It's hard to kill. The mite can
quickly develop resistance to the formulas we use for killing it. We have bees
now that have these problems that we can't necessarily see, whereas in the old
days we knew that when a black bear beat up the hive, it probably wouldn't
survive the winter. But with the mites, it's harder to detect some of these
Mr. Vautour: For your information, there is no cure for American
foulbrood. You cannot cure it. Once the spore is there, unless you irradiate it,
which is a very expensive process, you can't get it out of the honeycomb. It's
there to stay. Once a colony dies, for example, if it dies from American
foulbrood, other bees will go rob that hive and pick up those spores and bring
them back to their own hive. There is no cure for it. Burning is the only cure
for it. You have to get rid of it.
Senator Eaton: Unless you go back to the old way and get rid of the
Mr. Vautour: Over the years, different problems have arisen.
Acarapis woodi, which we call tracheal mites, get into the breathing tubes
of the bees. It began in England, I believe, but it just about wiped out the bee
population in Europe at one time. It's what we call tracheal mite here. Most of
us have it, but we've eliminated it in Nova Scotia. There's no trace of it in
New Brunswick now. What we're using is this organic chemical called formic acid.
That acid is produced by ants. When an ant stings us, it is formic acid that
Formic acid is produced naturally in the environment. We're treating our
hives for varroa mite with formic acid, which is an organic material, and we
found out that that's also killing these tracheal mites. We've been able to
eliminate the tracheal mites by using formic acid. Over the years, things have
been developed by the scientific community.
Senator Maltais: Welcome, gentlemen, and thank you for your expertise.
Mr. Paradis, allow me to congratulate you on being beekeepers from father to
son. In Quebec, the Paradis are known for being excellent politicians, both
federally and provincially.
You said something that intrigued me. You stated that a solution or possible
solution might reside in new pesticides that would destroy the parasites the
bees are suffering from. I thought that we could perhaps turn to science to find
a solution for the parasites that are it would seem the main cause of bee
mortality, both yours and throughout Canada.
If we asked pesticide makers to find a solution, in 15 days they would have
one. But if that solution is not a good one, it may destroy not only your bees,
but everything else around, as well as agriculture.
As for coated seeds, you explained to us that the molecules may be around for
15 or 20 years in the soil and water. In my opinion, we have to call that
procedure into question and closely examine how we could arrive at a solution
that will not lead to another ecological disaster somewhere.
Where I come from, we say that putting a band-aid on a wooden leg cures
nothing. I think we have to find a solution between science and beekeepers and
not immediately involve pesticide manufacturers. In fact, we heard a Dalhousie,
Nova Scotia, professor, who presented an excellent statement on this topic. I
think the solution resides somewhere between you and science.
I would like to go back to black bears. We have to remember that the black
bear has four months of the year to feed and put on weight. If we put electric
fences around the blueberry fields, we will be taking that bear's daily bread
out of his mouth, and killing it is not necessarily the right solution.
I am from northern Quebec, and I can tell you that black bears survive solely
on berries. There are injustices vis-à- vis the beekeepers, but there are also
injustices to fishers. For instance, if I fish in a salmon river and a few dozen
metres from me there is a black bear who is fishing for salmon, he eats it. If I
catch one, I have to put it back in the water. So that is unfair.
The Chair: What is your question, Senator Maltais?
Senator Maltais: We are told we need to preserve our blueberry crops,
but we also have to protect black bears. My question is this: would you agree to
see producers from each province work to find a solution, in cooperation with
the Canada research centres, one that will not destroy other species or plants
all around? It is a very simple question.
The Chair: Mr. Vautour, I believe the question is for you.
Mr. Vautour: I don't want to steal Mike's thunder, but I'm a third
generation beekeeper also. My grandmother kept bees when my grandfather wasn't
around; she kept them and kept the family alive, but I didn't know that until
after she died. I didn't learn anything from my ancestors.
But on the pesticide issue, about 10 years ago, when I was midway through my
beekeeping experience — I've killed a lot of bees from a lack of knowledge or
whatever, because keeping bees is a complicated business. There's an art to it.
The scientists have their take on it, but really beekeeping is an art, as Paul
explained. He had to learn how to overwinter bees, et cetera, and so did I.
As far as black bears go, I used to make a glib statement that bears have to
make a living, too. But once I lost 26 out of 28 hives from one bee yard, it
made me sit back and say that I have to do something different here. So we uses
electric fences, which don't hurt the bears too much, except my wife
accidentally leaned on an electric fence one day and almost went down. I took to
laughing and she was going to divorce me on the spot. The fence gives you quite
a jolt, but it doesn't really hurt the animal. They can be effective. I didn't
have one hive lost last year, and I'd normally have at least a dozen hives taken
out, and I'm only a small operator.
On the idea of overwintering, I've taken a bit of a different tack. I'm not
getting into chemicals as much as I used to. I use formic acid quite a bit. I
know Paul had reduced his formic acid use; I'm not sure if he's gotten back into
it or not.
I'm testing an overwintering strategy now, not as a scientist because I'm
just a practitioner. I left a bunch of hives out this past winter just the way
they were. It will be the survival of the fittest. If Darwin has his way,
whatever survives will be what I breed my future bees from, hopefully to get a
new stock of bees. It's the same thing for the American foulbrood problem. There
are certain bees that can genetically take care of the problem themselves. We
can put chemicals in there; we can put antibiotics in the hive as a prophylactic
in the springtime, which will prevent American foulbrood. The foulbrood larva is
only susceptible for about three days of its life. After the egg the queen has
laid hatches, the first three days of the larva's life is when they're
susceptible to American foulbrood.
The queen starts by laying a little clutch of eggs. Then she lays up to 1,500
to 2,000 eggs per day. As these eggs hatch, that's when the big risk for
American foulbrood is. If we use a prophylactic treatment in the springtime to
save those young bees, the hive builds up strong enough so they can take care of
the problem. The bees that have the genetic capability of doing so can sense
these larvae are dying from the foulbrood, and they can remove them before they
turn into spores.
Yes, there are ways of combatting the risks out there without getting into
Mr. Kittilsen: I want to assure the senator that we only fence as much
as necessary to keep our bees healthy. They pollinate lots of wild blueberries
in the woods that the bears harvest, and I think the bears are doing fine, thank
Mr. Paradis: It is the same in Alberta, hence the reason why we have
so many fences. We take care of our bears and we feed them.
The comment about finding something to eradicate the mites is not as simple
as it seems. They've been working on an AIDS vaccine far longer than they've
been working on mites, and they haven't eradicated it yet. I don't think you can
eradicate anything Mother Nature has out there. You may be able to control it in
order to live and work with it, but you're not going to eradicate it.
Paul mentioned formic acid. I'm going to go back to before 1988. In about
1986 we were banned from the use of a product called phenol or carbolic acid. We
put that product on a lid on top of the beehive, and it would chase the bees out
of the honey boxes and out of the hive. We could take the honey box off with no
bees in it. We used to do this four to five times a year, per beehive, as they
did in the United States and most of the world.
All of the sudden, all within the same couple of years, the world decided no
more phenol, no more use of that product because it is a cousin to formic acid,
but it is a man-made acid. There was a little bit of abuse of it and they were
finding residue of it in the honey, so they said ``no more.''
But when I said I have my own ideology as to why the mites showed up, we were
treating the mites with that stuff long before we knew they were in those
beehives. This is a symbiotic relationship that's been there for a million years
in one way, shape or form. None of this stuff is new. It's just that we now have
the tools, the knowledge and a better vision to find out what's going on.
Senator Ogilvie: Thank you, gentlemen. I must say, I've found this a
fascinating morning. I come from a long ancestry in rural Nova Scotia, and I've
always admired the practical good sense of people who live in rural areas and
their ability to observe reality in issues. There have been some very thoughtful
comments here today based on real observation.
I have a quick comment with regard to phenol and formic acid. Both are
dangerous compounds and are quite different in terms of chemical structure and
makeup. With phenol, we've learned we have to be very careful with its use.
There are significant issues that you've raised today, but we don't have time
for me to ask you the questions that I would really like to put to you, so I'm
going to ask you a couple of short questions, just for my information.
Mr. Paradis, you've mentioned this, but I forget: How many hives do you run
Mr. Paradis: We try to run 3,500 colonies, but we have equipment for
Senator Ogilvie: You're willing to seed 250 to the bears, as an
Mr. Paradis: Every spring, we try to get up to that magic number, but
we will try to stave off next year's losses by making up to 2,000 nucs for next
Senator Ogilvie: I just wanted to know the rough percentage, what
investment in loss you were making with the bears relative to the total.
Mr. Vautour, we have heard from others that there is a great deal of unused
or underutilized land that could well provide tremendous foraging areas for
bees. Road shoulders and other areas of nature have been raised by beekeepers
and producers across the country, Alberta in particular. An issue has been
identified regarding the amount of loss of rough terrain. It seems to me that
this is a real opportunity, because maintenance along our highways is a very
expensive process with regard to just letting it grow up in the wild areas.
Deliberately seeding with varieties that could provide good forage for bees,
among other small animals, and that do not grow to any significant height but
which are real colonizers in terms of ground cover, is a logical thing for the
beekeepers and the provinces to interface with as one element of a long-term
Mr. Vautour: We're working on it.
Mr. Paradis: Imagine the amount of roadways in Nova Scotia, but just
imagine the amount of oil field leases in Alberta.
Senator Ogilvie: Absolutely. It seems to me to make sense.
I have a question that interests me. The real issue here is that we can't
just talk about nature taking care of things, because the minute you start
harvesting things on a commercial basis, you are no longer dealing with dear old
Mother Nature in a pristine sense. One does have to bring in interventions that
are well thought out and are studied, and ultimately experience shows what's
best to occur.
We know that in nature there is a wide range of pollinators, a wide range of
bees and pollinators, other than the honeybee and the bumblebee. What I'm seeing
— I paid attention, or noticed it because of the study — is that certain major
hardware operations are now selling hives for wild bees to individuals, shall we
say, absolute amateurs. One can go in and buy one of two or three different
types of hive and the idea is to hang it on the east or south side of your
building or a tree or something in your yard, and you'll have your own little
wild colony. I guess it's kind of like feeding the birds, where we see bird
feeders all over the place.
The professional beekeeper has a species that doesn't just stay in a farmyard
like cattle; it mingles with all of the wild pollinators out there. Is there a
potential danger that these amateur hive collections intended for wild
pollinators could in fact come to be an issue for you with regard to the
development of new diseases and other kinds of issues that you might face?
Mr. Vautour: No. I've had a look at that also. I call myself a serious
side-liner and I do a lot of volunteer work. I filled in as the chief inspector
for the province one year. We had a volunteer group of inspectors who would go
around and inspect hives. I was the chief inspector and I did a lot of talks. I
was looking at these gadgets also. The one I was interested in was the blue
orchard mason bee. I did a few talks on it to various garden clubs and that sort
I don't think we'll see conflict. They're totally different. These are almost
solitary bees. Except for the wasps, the hornets and the bumblebees, most of the
other bees are solitary. They don't build nests. They're not a social insect.
They do their own thing by themselves.
I don't know if you are aware of it, but blue orchard mason bees nest in a
little hole that the beetles have made in rotten wood. They will nest in there
and pack it with mud. That's why they call them mason bees. They're individual
bees, so they don't really interact with our bees at all.
Mr. Kittilsen: I agree with Senator Ogilvie on trying to get some
areas across the country planted in bee forage. I have one example. We've worked
with a mining company in Nova Scotia where we keep bees on the edge of their
quarry and they've changed the seed mixture that they use on their tailings. It
seems to be a good thing. We see bees in it, at any rate.
Further to that, this winter I was at the meeting of the American Beekeeping
Federation in the southern U.S., and they were talking about the value of
talking to their government about doing a similar program, planting bee forage
in areas that are available for such.
Mr. Vautour: In fact, they have done that in the Midwestern United
States, where the majority of bees are being overwintered in the Dakotas. The
United States government has put out a project. I can't remember the value, but
it's in the millions, and they are seeding down there.
Also, in New Brunswick, Senator Mockler would probably be interested to hear,
that since they've closed the Minto mines, they've planted them with birdsfoot
trefoil to reclaim those grounds where there was nothing there, no value to the
earth. They've planted that for bee forage in particular. They came to us and
asked if we would be interested in putting bees in there. We all jumped at that,
but one person got the contract sorted and he unfortunately failed two years
later. But he was a new beekeeper.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you very much to our three witnesses. My
questions are for Mr. Kittilsen. Throughout the Maritimes, I have heard it said
that a study was done concerning the interaction between pesticides and the bee
infestation. The study concerned, among other things, varroa and nosema.
Can you tell me what the conclusions of that study were, and if there was a
similar pan-Canadian study?
Mr. Kittilsen: I believe you're referring to the Nosema apis
Senator Dagenais: Yes.
Mr. Kittilsen: I'm not aware that it has been done across Canada. It
was done within our province by a master's student who has now completed his PhD
and is working in Switzerland, I believe. It has shown that one of the diseases,
Nosema apis, now Nosema ceranae, within the bee — it operates at a
different time of year. It's more a topical disease, and so it's a bit more of a
problem in the summer months. We have a medication that is successful in
treating for that protozoa.
Senator Dagenais: Is that a pan-Canadian study? Because I thought I
understood that a study was done in the Maritimes?
Mr. Paradis, did you want to add something?
Mr. Paradis: This study is not across Canada yet. Certain provinces
are doing it. Beaverlodge has been in it. I am involved and was involved right
from 2002, when we first found Nosema ceranae in Alberta.
The interesting thing is that most of the Nosema apis that was done
prior to 2002, I believe — I'd have to check with Dr. Pernal — was presumed to
be all Nosema apis, but lots of it was Nosema ceranae. It's a
different shape and form in the microscope, but its shape is so similar that
unless you're keen on it, you cannot tell. The only way to tell is through DNA,
to have a positive thing, which requires a big pocketbook and a lot of time.
Senator Rivard: During the past few weeks, witnesses appeared before
the committee and told us that there was insurance for winter hive mortality and
that insurance was available to Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan producers.
Today we have the good fortune of having a producer from Alberta here. Mr.
Paradis, are you interested in this winter mortality insurance? Do you take some
out, and more? And if not, why?
Mr. Paradis: I've taken it for two years, but it doesn't work. The
reason it doesn't work is they come out to inspect your bees for your primary
inspection in the spring when people are either unwrapping their beehives or, in
my case, going through them after wintering. However, your winter losses do not
stop at that specific point in time.
In the last couple of days, Monday and Tuesday, we were going through some
bees in my shop. We went through well over 1,000. The average at this point is
14 per cent. From my experience, we're going to double that by the time May
rolls around, when we start making up our losses.
Your primary inspection should not be at the time you go through your
beehives and discover the number you've lost. It should be the number just
before you start making up your losses because you will lose right up until that
point. Now your bees are strong enough to make up your losses. That's your
definitive winter loss, not the number they have pegged it at.
Senator Rivard: Is this insurance offered by a private company, a
cooperative or by the Government of Alberta?
Mr. Paradis: This is government-run insurance. Alberta and Manitoba
insurance are symbiotic in the way they operate.
Senator Rivard: I will now address the representatives from Nova
Scotia and New Brunswick. This insurance is not offered in your area; would you
consider it beneficial?
Mr. Vautour: Production in New Brunswick may not be sufficient for
that. There may be two beekeepers there who are earning a living with honey
That's their only source of income. There are only a couple.
We rely on the AgriStability program through Agriculture and Agri-Food
Canada, but the problem with AgriStability is it only kicks in 18 months later.
You have to try to borrow to make up your losses and wait for AgriStability to
kick in, but it always lags. If that could be improved somehow, we would be
Mr. Kittilsen: I would be interested in such a program in Nova Scotia.
It is not currently offered. The crop insurance program in Nova Scotia offers
wildlife compensation if our bees are all fenced properly. If a bear makes it
through the fence, we are offered compensation and it does help.
Our bee yards are scattered perhaps an hour's drive from our central
property, so it's hard to watch them all. We have perhaps 60 or 65 different
locations that we try to manage, and so any program is of benefit to a
beekeeper. At the end of the day, we have to make so many dollars a hive, and
how we get it is . . . .
Mr. Vautour: We did have an opportunity to get involved in New
Brunswick, but the cost of the insurance was prohibitive. We couldn't afford to
buy into it, but we did look at it in New Brunswick.
Mr. Paradis: Perhaps the correct insurance would be a whole hive
insurance that encompasses bear damage, skunk damage, raccoon damage, wintering,
everything all in one. A hive is worth $250; if we lose it, you help us pay for
Senator Rivard: Is Canada self-sufficient? Does the production cover
the needs of the Canadian market, or do we have to import honey? Is the annual
honey production sufficient for export?
Mr. Vautour: We are not self-sufficient in honey. We import — I can't
remember the numbers, but Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada produces a monthly
report on imports and exports. We are nowhere near being self-sufficient.
We export a bit. I think the United States is probably our main customer, but
we import so much more from Argentina and I'm not sure where. I'm not in the
honey business; I'm in the pollination business.
Mr. Paradis: Most of my crop is exported. Eighty per cent of it goes
either to the U.S. or offshore.
I don't believe that our imports are something to be concerned about; we're
not at that point yet. Alberta produces enough honey to supply all of Canada.
However, most of it is exported to the U.S. The honey produced in most of
Ontario and Quebec is locally sold to fill those niche markets, so I would say
that the importation of honey at this point in time is not that big of an issue.
I would say that if we continued on the path we are on with the beekeepers now,
yes, within 10 years we could be looking at a problem.
Senator Rivard: Thanks to NAFTA, there are no barriers preventing us
from exporting to the United States, to American companies. Is that correct?
Mr. Paradis: Yes, there is 1 cent per pound levy on honey going in.
There is a mountain of paperwork to fill out. It's the same situation when we
ship overseas to Europe or Asia. Checks and balances are in place for that.
Senator Eaton: Gentlemen, is there any breeding that you know of in
Canada to try to produce a bee that is hardier to our winters?
Mr. Paradis: Thirty years ago there was a program in northern Alberta,
at the national research centre in Beaverlodge. It was led by a fellow who is
now in Guelph, Ontario, Tibor Szabo. It was called the Alberta bee project. Well
over a million dollars was put into the project at that time. It took beehives
from our outfit and about 25 other outfits and selected the best of the best and
bred from them. It was an ongoing project. It ran for about 10 years. They sold
queen bees and genetics, and then it was donated to Fairview College for their
safekeeping. Fairview College cancelled their beekeeping program. They had an
auction sale and I bought it. So yes, there are genetics.
There is a project in Saskatchewan that is developing a northern bee, but the
problem with these bees — mine included — is how to get them out to the masses
in a timely fashion. We all need our queen bees in March and April in order to
produce a honey crop.
Senator Eaton: I don't quite understand.
Mr. Paradis: We need our queen bees at that time of the year. There is
no way to raise queen bees in this country in order to hand out to the masses at
that time of the year.
Senator Eaton: In other words, you use your bees for producing honey,
but no program is taking those bees that are hardier and actually breeding them
to produce more hardy bees?
Mr. Paradis: Just the producers themselves are trying to do this
because we don't have access to commercial guys doing it for us.
We did take steps five years ago and exported queens from us into the United
States to two queen breeders in order to get those genetics en masse back into
Canada, but the amount of paperwork that took, I'm not doing it again.
Do you understand what I'm saying? In order to get that stock back here in a
timely fashion, we have to send it someplace much warmer than Canada.
Senator Eaton: Would you be recommending that a university like Guelph
or a university in Manitoba or Saskatchewan restart the winter bee breeding
program that could increase the number of hardy bees for sale?
Mr. Paradis: No, I would not suggest that at all. The money would be
better spent on buying a tropical island so that we could breed them there and
send them back.
The Chair: Before we go to Senator Mercer, Mr. Vautour, you wanted to
make a comment?
Mr. Vautour: I'm amateurish at this; I'm not a scientist. But I am
trying to do that myself by going to my hardiest hives, the ones that have
overwintered on their own without support, and I find them. They are just
booming in the springtime, raring to go. I'll breed from that queen.
I'm not sure whether you understood why we can't have our own queens early in
the spring. Unfortunately, the poor drones are all kicked out of the hive in the
fall of the year. The drones are the male bees.
We can raise the queens, but we can't get them to breed here in Canada early
enough in the season because there are no drones. The drones will only come
later on when the weather warms up.
Senator Eaton: If you had a special thing where you waited until the
drones came and bred, and you did a breeding operation —
Mr. Vautour: There is a problem with that also because the queens,
when they leave the hive to go out on their mating flight, they go into an area
that's called a drone congregation area. Drones come from all around and just
hover around waiting to mate with the queen. She'll mate with up to about 20 of
them, but we don't know what the breed of that drone will be. So the genetics
will be mixed up again, unless you artificially inseminate them, which is not
all good. Although, it's being done in the United States, and they could
probably do it in the universities, yes, but for mass production, I don't know
if you could do it.
Mr. Kittilsen: I agree. I think breeding is part of the answer. I
think it's been proven. We can build better bee genetics, but then the varroa
mite came along, and it really doesn't care about the genetics, whether it's a
winter or summer bee.
Senator Eaton: No, but if we could remove one problem off the table,
Mr. Kittilsen: It helps. It has been done with some success in Nova
Scotia. One breeder in particular has kept records since probably the early
1970s and had bred a steady line of bees and has a good quality bee for Nova
Scotia, but he can only mate them in July. We need them in April and May.
Senator Mercer: Mr. Kittilsen, in your presentation you talked about a
module course entitled ``The Modern Beekeeping Basics to Business'' that
Dalhousie, I assume through the agricultural college, has developed, and you
also said that the course has been full for the last couple of years. Are there
other programs like this across the country? We're raising the level of
sophistication. I assume this is helping other people in the business not make
the same mistakes that some have made.
Mr. Kittilsen: That's correct. There is another program in the country
at Fairview College. It was a program in the 1980s, and it was discontinued and
restarted. I'm sure Mr. Paradis knows more about that.
One of the issues we found is we had a young fellow that worked for us for
two or three years. He decided he wanted to start his own beekeeping business,
and one of the difficulties was getting him financed. The provincial Farm Loan
Board, Farm Credit and the banks were a little reluctant to lend to young
people, despite him having excellent credentials. He has been very successful in
starting up his own operation. It was quite a challenge getting him financed.
Mr. Paradis: Approximately five years ago we resurrected the
Commercial Beekeeping Program at Fairview College. It's currently run by the
Grande Prairie Regional College. The campuses are symbiotic.
At the same time as we developed that program and resurrected it, we were in
discussions about pursuing the Beaverlodge Research Station, raising it to
Now we have this Commercial Beekeeping Program at Fairview College, but we
also have the National Bee Diagnostic Centre that's in Beaverlodge, which is
something to see. It has all the tools and toys needed for testing honeybees in
every way, shape or form. They need a few more tools, but the whole idea was to
have the students and everyone working together there. All the new generation
coming out is well aware of the tools, programs and what is available.
As Paul said, financing is a real challenge. If you own a quarter of land in
Alberta, you can finance that quarter of land for 35 years and just pay interest
on it. You can't do that in beekeeping. You have to have that debt paid within
Senator Maltais: The bees we are talking about were imported from
Africa, were they not?
Mr. Vautour: I can reply to that. The big threat that everyone sees
here in Canada is importing Africanized bees. They have them down in the
southern United States.
I don't know if they made you aware of the experience down in South America,
where they first came in. I think it was through Brazil. They got loose.
However, they were not able to survive south of the 30th parallel, and that
would mean they cannot survive, let's say, north of Texas or areas like that.
These bees have certain traits about them. When they swarm, meaning their
method of reproduction, they swarm so often that they can't store enough honey
to survive the winter; so those bees can't survive in our area. Perhaps the
genetics could mix with our bees.
These bees are very defensive of their hives. This would be the biggest
threat to our beekeeping community, to have a scare thing on and start with this
killer bee stuff.
People down in those countries where they have Africanized bees are dealing
with it. They are collecting honey and are able to live and work with these
This is one of the threats we see. We wouldn't want the media to make a big
issue out of it, but they have these Africanized bees down in Florida. That
doesn't stop Quebecers and Maritimers from flooding the place down there every
year. So they're really not afraid of the bees.
Sorry, I got diverted there.
Senator Maltais: About 600 years ago in America, pollination was
happening, was it not? Who was pollinating the flowers, blueberries and
raspberries? We had no African bees and no white person had yet set foot in
Mr. Vautour: Yes, but because of the size of populations now, we have
monocultures and they must have the pollination. There are no more wild bees.
Incidentally, bees were imported from Europe. There are no natural bees here.
However, back hundreds of years ago there were small mixed farms, and they
didn't really need the pollination or the wild bees pollinated.
Senator Maltais: Those bees are infected, but there are still a few
Mr. Vautour: Yes.
Senator Maltais: Are they infected?
Mr. Vautour: Apparently, they are.
From what I understand, wild pollinators are dying off. That's a problem.
There are studies being done now on that, yes. The idea is that single crops
must have hundreds, thousands or perhaps millions of bees out there to
pollinate. I can't remember what the numbers are in the almond fields in
California, but I understand that 2 million hives are brought in for
Senator Maltais: I will not talk about California, Africa or Brazil.
In Canada, something was pollinating flowers before bees arrived. Bears were not
the only species eating blueberries, others were as well.
But these are these so-called ``indigenous'' bees infected like the bees
imported from New Zealand, Florida, California, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala and
Mr. Kittilsen: What Mr. Vautour is getting at is that now we have a
monoculture that is sprayed with insecticides, so the native pollinators are
taken out. They are not available to pollinate in blueberry fields. We've
intensified the management of the blueberry fields and now they have many
millions, maybe even a hundred million blossoms per acre, and that requires a
large number of honeybees to pollinate.
Senator Maltais: And if there had never been any pesticides in Canada,
from Victoria to St. John, would the bees nevertheless be in poor health?
Mr. Kittilsen: Probably not, but as humans we do our best.
Mr. Paradis: I think I understand the senator's concern. The concern
is this: Are our native pollinators disappearing?
The simple answer to that question is yes, because of the pesticides and the
way we are treating the lands. Once you're seeding only canola, or you only have
blueberries, you don't have a full grocery store of food for the bees or for the
If you try to survive only on McDonald's hamburgers, you're not going to live
very long. You need everything that's out there. If you come into my country and
you stand up on the top of a beehive and look east, west, north, south and all
you see is yellow as far as you can see, there's nothing but canola flowers for
our bees and the few natural pollinators that are left over. Then along comes
the spraying equipment and the neonicotinoids take care of some of that. Your
natural pollinators are just crashing. We can't move the natural pollinators. We
can move our beehives.
Senator Maltais: Mr. Chair, that is what I wanted to hear and finally,
someone had the courage to say so. Thank you, gentlemen.
Senator Buth: As we hear from different witnesses, we hear different
things and there are experts in specific areas. We did hear from a researcher
from the University of Saskatchewan whose entire study is on native bees. He did
comment that there is a lot of variability across the country in terms of native
bees and there is a variety of different species. When I remember looking at one
of his charts, it's actually the Prairie provinces that have quite a bit of
diversity in terms of native pollinators.
I wanted to clarify that because I think at one point a statement was made
that there are no native bees, but that's not true. Yes, they are threatened
and, yes, it's pesticides and, yes, it's habitat loss, and I really appreciate
the comments of Mr. Paradis. It's modern farming practices, but it's not
something that causes us to suddenly return to no farming practices. Actually,
honeybees wouldn't be around without modern farming practices and the crops that
essentially are providing honey and also pollination.
I wanted to clarify that. There are different witnesses who come in with
different areas of expertise, and we've heard from the native pollinator person.
The Chair: That was a very good clarification, Senator Buth.
Before we adjourn the meeting, I would like to share with the three witnesses
that since we began our study, we have heard from scientists, academics and many
stakeholders from industry and the equipment manufacturing companies. We're
heard about best management techniques for our land and soil. I would certainly
say that the three of you have impressed us. We thank you very much.
Before you go, I have one question. You have the leaders in front of you that
can make three recommendations to improve bee health. Collectively, with your
experience, what would be the three recommendations that would help bee health
Mr. Vautour: Education of the small beekeepers because their practices
impact on the large commercial beekeepers.
The Chair: What would be the second recommendation?
Mr. Kittilsen: We need help in managing our varroa mite with new
products, new research, and new methods on how to control this very devastating
pest of the bee colonies.
Mr. Paradis: We need access to bees, as long as they fit the profile
that Canada has. We don't need any new diseases, but we certainly shouldn't
restrict the ones that exist in other countries with the same disease profile as
The Chair: Thank you very much.
(The committee adjourned.)